Content to Pay for Content

I think I’ve developed a mild psychological allergy to advertising.  Since I cancelled my cable subscription a few years ago, I’ve gotten out of the habit of sitting through ads.  This probably explains why I have trouble with Hulu Plus (you pay, but the shows still have commercials).  Most of my programming comes through purchases from Amazon Instant Video or watching Netflix, which are both commercial free.  YouTube exists in some middle ground between these two models.  They show a commercial at the beginning, but then get out of the way.

Every week we read new announcements about networks starting to offer their content via direct subscription (cutting out the cable service middleman).  HBO, Showtime, ESPN, CBS, and others have already launched or will be launching soon.  I got excited about this until I read that I would be paying for programming that sill contained commercials.

Creating good content takes time, energy, creativity, and money.  I don’t expect to receive these goods for free.  Let me state clearly: I am willing to pay for content.  However, I am not willing to pay for content that has already been paid for by advertising. Pick your model, folks.

Despite my tone, I am optimistic about the future.  We are still living in the early days of this shift.  Hell, it still seems novel to us that Amazon and Netflix make their own (award-winning) shows.  As content creators experiment with different models, I’m sure many of them will arrive at some mechanism for cultivating a direct relationship between the producers and consumers.  Sell me content piece by piece.  Better yet, allow me to subscribe to a season or a channel.  You will know more about your viewers and keep more of the profits.

Podcast Renaissance: It’s Overcast and I Like It

When I commuted into New York City, much of the time spent on buses was spent listening to podcasts.  Sure I played a few games on my iPad and read the occasional audiobook, but the majority of the time I gorged on one podcast after another.

Then I moved to California, and my commute went down to a few minutes spent during a short drive.  I stopped consuming podcasts and, in typical human myopia, I figured the Age of Podcasts had ended, and they were no longer a thing.

Recently podcasts have reentered my life, arriving in kind of a goofy way.  No, it wasn’t the massive popularity of the podcast, Serial that brought podcasts back to my attention (though I did eventually listen to that podcast and enjoyed it).  Living in Silicon Valley, following the news often means tech news.  One day I was reading the umpteenth mention of Marco Arment’s new podcasting app called Overcast, and I decided to download it to see what the hype was about.  I mean, how could an app that plays podcasts possibly be “revolutionary”?  This is a problem that has been well and truly solved.

So I tried it.  Yup.  It’s awesome.  The app makes it easy to find podcasts, subscribe, and stay up to date.  It alerts me when new episodes of my favorites are available.  Overcast has an uncluttered modern design, but that’s not why it’s awesome.  The real power is in the controls, which can be set on a podcast by podcast basis.  One button, voice boost, gives noticeable audio enhancement.  In an even moderately noisy environment, this makes an enormous difference.  Another button, smart speed, shortens the silences that naturally occur when people are talking.  Of course, you can manually adjust playback speed– all the way up to a peppy 2.25x.  It’s got a Netflixesque setting to play the next podcast when the current episode finishes.  The app has a sleep timer as well as handy buttons for jumping thirty seconds into the past or the future (useful for when a loud truck outside muffles a good part).

Now, rarely a day goes by when I don’t listen to one or two podcasts.  Some great shows are being produced.  Rather than the age having passed, I would suggest that we are in the golden age of podcasting.  I am so glad they found their way haphazardly back into my life.

Disclaimer – I am not affiliated with the Overcast app in any way and have never met Marco.

In Search of the Magic Bracelet

It’s no secret that I’m a fan (though not rabid) of the quantified self movement. I’ve tried various services and gadgets over the years, but I always find that the more automated something is, the more likely it is to stick. tracking my music listening is a good example. Goodreads is an exception. Up until recently, one needed to enter books into list manually. Now Goodreads has started providing minimal integration with Kindle.

Over the past year, I feel like I’ve tried almost every fitness device available. To be clear, this does not include GPS running watches. No, here we are discussing ubiquitous fitness trackers. Think Fitbit or Jawbone Up, that sort of thing. They need to be light and small if I am supposed to wear them all day including when I sleep.

With the Apple Watch coming out in April, it feels like all the other devices are competing for second place. (I have many Apple devices and years worth of apps, so I am invested in this particular ecosystem). They make fantastic hardware. App developers will probably flock to the new platform too.

In the interim, I am currently testing the new Fitbit Charge HR. So far, I like it. It meets the basic criteria of being lightweight and comfortable. The heart rate monitor is good enough. The sleep tracking is okay. Steps, distance, and flights of stairs are solid, of course. The apps are slick and usable. The competitions challenges are a fun addition. IFTTT integration is cool. The battery life could be a little better, but it’s not terrible.

I think I’ll be going with the Charge HR for the time being. It is going to be a fun year for gadgets.